Defensive Line Focusing on Speed

For several years the Western Michigan University Broncos defensive line has been the most consistent unit on the field for the Broncos. The Broncos have focused on strength and quickness when it comes to the defensive line. This year the Broncos continue working on the strength of the line but have place a stronger emphasis on developing their speed.

With a defensive line that is anchored by senior defensive end and the 2002 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Jason Babin, the 2003 season should be another outstanding year for this solid corps of athletes. Babin was named to several All-American lists at the end of last season after recording 94 tackles (77 solo, 22 assisted), 26 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovered, 2 blocked punts and 3 offensive pass completions (all for first downs). His tackles for losses and sacks tied school records. Babin is also a 2003 All-American candidate and should be a candidate for other awards as well.

Babin has been working a lot on his speed since the end of the 2002 season, but just not his leg speed. "In February I went back and watched all the films from last year and I compare them to guys that are big time. They use their hands a lot more so I've been really trying to focus in on using my hands, faster hands. Been doing a lot of different drills for my hand speed and hand control," he told us. Babin also plans to spend some time at a football camp in Florida to get ready for the 2003 season.

With Anthony Allsbury's appeal for a 6th season being denied, the Broncos will be using junior Jack Gitler to replace former Bronco Chris Browning at the left defensive end position. Gitler finished the 2002 season with 31 tackles (20 solo, 11 assisted) and 1 sack. Gitler has the speed and quickness and should opponents try to double team Babin, Gitler should be able to find the open hole to make the plays. New defensive line coach J.C. Harper likes what he sees from Gitler, "you know Gitler goes full speed, a hundred miles per hour," he said. Juniors Nick Melcher and Ernest Osborne and redshirt freshmen Matt Ludeman return for the Broncos to back up Babin and Gitler.

On the inside of the defensive line, the defensive tackles took a hit during spring practice when senior Hausia "House" Faleofa went down with a neck injury, but should be cleared and ready to play when summer camp rolls around. Faleofa proved himself as a player last season for the Broncos in his first season after transferring from College of the Canyons in California. Following the season in which he recorded 30 tackles (19 solo, 11 assisted), 1 sack and 1 forced fumble, Faleofa was almost about to leave Western Michigan University to go back to Hawaii. Fortunately Faleofa decided to stay and finish his collegiate career with the Broncos.

With the injury to Hausia, during spring practice Coach Harper felt "it just gives someone else an opportunity. Normally, what happens when someone else gets an opportunity they step up and they rise to the occasion," he continued. "Now "House", he's a guy that's played before so you miss that experience and you miss just his comfort in there. I think he's missed but I don't think it's something that's just so crucial that we can't go on with practice. I just hope we get him back." With Faleofa's injury, it gives redshirt sophomore Joe Alvarez a chance to step up which is how senior nose guard Jon Jones saw it. "Joe has a chance to step up and show he can be a playmaker, which I think he can," he said.

Lining up to the right of Faleofa at the nose guard position will be Jones. At 290 Jones is the biggest of the front four for the Broncos on defense. Jones saw limited action last season recording just 7 tackles in 10 games but has been working hard at getting ready for the 2003 season. Nipping at Jones's heels for playing time is redshirt freshman Duane Robinson and sophomore Paul Moersch.

Joining the Broncos defensive line in August will be defensive tackle James Blair. Blair comes to Western Michigan from Pershing High School in Detroit, Michigan. Joining Blair on the defensive line will be another Detroiter. Dezmond Gray joins the Broncos after completing his high school career at Cass Technical High School also in Detroit.

Coach Harper sees just about everyone on the defensive line getting a chance to play this season, "I think the key thing is to get the guys behind them (the starters) to try to play as good as the guys in front of them and just keep getting better everyday. As far as the defensive tackles inside I really feel good about what they are doing. We're staying healthy and we're getting better every day. I have been pleased with Jon and been pleased with Joe and hopefully we will get "House" (Hausia Faleofa) back in the fall and get a few other extras."

Babin echoed Coach Harper's sentiments; "the line is fine." He continued, "the whole package is looking good because we are moving in sync together and we are moving the same speed forward, you know fast. Everyone is moving in directions and everything is working good as a front four and the linebackers are fitting in just fine."

With Coach Harper in his first season as the defensive line coach, Jones sees things progressing along for the line. ""Myself, I think the defensive line has gotten a lot better. We have a new coach in here. He's teaching us a lot of different good things. He's helping us be a better defensive line as a total in speed, in our steps, our hands and our eyes. I look for us making a lot of plays this year. A lot of good plays." Jones also told us that he want to "just to be a better player. Help be a leader on the defensive line and on defense altogether."

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